THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

17 posts categorized "Resources"

01 October 2020

‘Using your eyes as a pen’ – Black British Poets in Performance

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By Dr Hannah Silva, British writer and performer and Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at Queen Mary, University of London.

Paula Varjack
Paula Varjack selfie.

“What you actually do is you use your eyes as a pen,” David J is telling me how he learned to freestyle, “off the dome.” We’re sitting in a studio at the British Library, recording an interview for an archive: Black British Poets in Performance.

David J developed his craft out loud. When freestyling “it’s your life really that gets played out.” He describes hiding in a corner: “a silent child hears more.” He picked up vocabulary from books in the family home, medical journals and the Encyclopedia Britannica, and integrated it into his freestyling, “we can have fun ’cause my family is medical so we’re gonnna do vocal autopsies so everyone is… ah! nah he’s gonna rip em apart... nah I’m gonna do it clinically, ’cause mum’s a health visitor.”

Throughout these interviews it becomes clear that writing ‘out loud’ and ‘on the page’ are not differentiated practices, that performance is as much a part of ‘writing’ as writing is performance.

Here’s Anthony Joseph discussing how vocalising a poem can connect you to “other musical ideas”:

Anthony Joseph [47.55-48.24] ref. C1874_1

Download Anthony Joseph transcript.

Vocalisation is a way of embodying writing, engaging not just the ears in listening, but the breath, diaphragm, larynx, and vocal folds. Malika Booker comments that she likes to walk whilst she writes: “because I need to get the rhythm, I need to hear things I need to feel things […] writing is not just a solitary sitting down act.”

In the padded windowless room David J is looking at me, “you see Hannah” and looking around: “you see: speaker” and now he’s inhaling the words and mixing them with “what’s inside of you… your thought.”

David J [17.56-18.33] ref. C1874_15

Download David J transcript.

Kayo Chingonyi comments that “the label of ‘poetry’ has shrunk over the centuries”, that performance has often not been accorded the same importance as “dancing that intellect on the page.” He analyses the racialised aspect of labels such as spoken word and performance poetry and how this is linked “to having bodies”:

Kayo Chingonyi [26.37-27.30] ref. C1874_9

Download Kayo Chingonyi transcript.

Jacob Sam-La Rose discusses the importance of having spoken word and performance poetry in archives that can be accessed by poets developing their craft:

Jacob Sam-La Rose [19.50-20.40] ref. C1874_16

Download Jacob Sam-La Rose transcript.

This is that kind of resource.

These interviews feel groundbreaking because of the depth to which each poet discusses their craft. As Malika Booker says, this is “an artform that needs to be interrogated.” Every interview is over an hour long, and is accompanied by readings. We discuss how labels can exclude, and conversely how self-naming can be a creative act. We have conversations about the Black British voice, the Lyric I, presence, audiences, artistic development, performance poetry criticism, and poetry within theatre. We discuss influences and inspirations, and zoom in on moments of writing and performing.

Booker writes on her feet both at the early compositional stage, and sometimes in performance. In our interview she explains that her poem ‘My Mother’s Blues’ was edited in performance in response to her audience. Initially she wasn’t “sure how to use the ‘pain’.” She wrote “twenty-six drafts, trying to figure it out.” It was only when she did it for an audience that she realised the poem was “important.” Her description provides an example of how the body, voice and audience can all play a part in the writing of poetry, she treated “the performance space as a laboratory.” It also illustrates the interactive joys of a poetry night:

Malika Booker [45.50-52.00] ref. C1847_12

Download Malika Booker transcript.

Other unforgettable moments in this archive include Paula Varjack revealing that her name and performance persona were constructed around a pair of sunglasses. Lemn Sissay, whom I interviewed by a pool in Brazil, demonstrating how he started to deconstruct the moment of performance as it happens, and how he uses gesture as part of his writing (read more here: Lemn Sissay: Defamiliarsation and Performed Palimpsests. There’s Inua Ellams on guerrilla gardening, Karen McCarthy Woolf on vulnerability and hybridity and how trauma made her especially sensitive to sound, and a chat with Raymond Antrobus and Deanna Rodger behind the Latitude Poetry Tent (already a historical event).

Also – we had fun. Here’s Joshua Idehen parodying poetry styles and prosodies:

Joshua Idehen [55.28-56.28] ref. C1874_5

Download Joshua Idehen transcript.

The poets in this archive are there because I wanted to talk to them, and because they were willing to talk to me. My own research interests and my connections and friendships inevitably shaped it. The interviews were recorded several years ago and the poets would record different interviews today, but this archive enables us to, as Sam-La Rose puts it, “chase back movements and ways of thinking.” It is by no means a finished project and I hope it continues to be expanded and that the interviews are an exciting resource that supports further research.

Thank you to all the poets who agreed to talk to me for the archive, and all those who talked to me outside of the British Library context too. So far this archive contains interviews with Raymond Antrobus, Dean Atta, Malika Booker, Kayo Chingonyi, Inua Ellams, Anthony Joseph, Ria Jade Hartley, Joshua Idehen, Keith Jarrett, David J, Chanje Kunda, Deanna Rodgers, Jacob Sam-La Rose, Andra Simons, Lemn Sissay, Mark Mace Smith, Paula Varjack, Indigo Williams and Karen McCarthy Woolf.

The archive was constructed as part of an AHRC collaborative doctoral award with Stirling University and The British Library.

This collection is available in the Library's Reading Rooms and will be online next year. If you would like to browse the collection online, please enter C1874 into the Library's Sound and Moving Image Catalogue.

19 November 2018

Recording of the week: Sheila Girling describes fellow painter, Helen Frankenthaler

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This week's selection comes from Camille Johnston, Oral History Assistant Archivist.

To celebrate the launch of Voices of art we're listening to artist Sheila Girling's (1924-2015) description of fellow painter, Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011). 

Helen Frankenthaler was an American abstract expressionist artist. Girling gives a detailed illustration of Frankenthaler's gestural and 'spontaneous' painting style. She mentions that Frankenthaler was one of 'Clem's' protegées. This was Clement Greenberg, the influential and at times contentious American art critic.

Sheila Girling was a painter and collagist known for her large abstract paintings and her sensitive use of colour. Born in Birmingham, she lived in Vermont for a short time with her family while her husband, the sculptor Anthony Caro, taught at Bennington College. The couple returned there many times. At Bennington, Girling and Caro were part of a close circle of artists who were experimenting with new artistic techniques. These included Kenneth Noland, Helen Frankenthaler and Jules Olitski.

Sheila Girling on Helen Frankenthaler (C466/296)

Photograph of Sheila GirlingSheila Girling. Courtesy Barford Sculptures Limited

This clip features on the Voices of art website. Voices of art is a new British Library resource that explores the art world behind the scenes through life story recordings with artists, curators and writers. Extracts from oral history recordings accompany a series of essays by writers who have been immersed in the art world of the 20th and 21st centuries. To hear more from Sheila Girling, see Hester Westley's article Coaching from the side lines: Sheila Girling and Anthony Caro.

Voices of art is supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

Follow @BL_OralHistory  and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

24 September 2018

Recording of the week: Toscanini and Beethoven

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This week's selection comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music Recordings.

Arturo Toscanini was famous for his outbursts of temper on the rostrum and ruled his orchestras with a rod of iron. His style is well suited to heroic music and one of his best interpretations is of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, heard here with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1936. The dynamism is most evident in the last movement where Toscanini uses driving rhythm to propel the music ever forward.

Symphony no. 7 op. 92 A major

Photograph of Arturo Toscanini

To explore more Classical recordings, including over 400 recordings of Beethoven concertos, string quartets and symphonies, please visit British Library Sounds.

Follow @BL_Classical and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

04 September 2018

Sir Francis Chichester talks to Lady Chichester from Gipsy Moth IV

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Dr Emma Greenwood, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage, writes:

Sir Francis Chichester’s record-breaking circumnavigation of the globe in 1966-1967 is a legendary accomplishment in yachting and sporting history. When he sailed back into Plymouth Sir Francis was greeted by a fleet of small boats, thousands of fans and a hysterical press.

This huge public interest was largely owing to the Marconi Kestrel radio telephone installed on board the yacht Gipsy Moth IV which enabled Sir Francis to send weekly newspaper despatches throughout his voyage.

This same radio set, however, also allowed Sir Francis to communicate, very occasionally, with his wife Lady Chichester. One of these rare conversations took place on 19 November 1966 and, fortunately for us, it was recorded and has now been preserved as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

The recording itself is of poor quality, but this only reflects listening conditions at the time. Lady Chichester was on board the cruise ship SS Oriana at the time, on route to a planned rendezvous in Sydney, and the radio signal was weak and subject to lots of interference. Questions had to be repeated, voices raised, and speech slowed down. There was also an operator on the line throughout, so there was no privacy between the couple.

Sir Francis and Lady Chichester talking before Sydney (C1604/01)

In spite of the circumstances, both Sir Francis and Lady Chichester sound remarkably composed. Much of the 14 minute conversation is taken up with the exchange of essential information relating to their respective positions, rates of progress, weather conditions and expected arrival times into Sydney. It is hard to believe that this was the first time they had spoken in nearly three months, or imagine the dangers Sir Francis had already faced in his voyage.

Nevertheless, the ability to communicate via radio telephone, was clearly of great importance to both parties. After the voyage, Lady Chichester stated, ‘the radio communication with Gipsy Moth IV was something really marvellous, and the men who worked it were wonderful people’ (‘A Wife’s Part in High Adventure’ in Sir Francis Chichester, Gipsy Moth Circles the World (Bello, 2012), p. 249).As for Sir Francis, being able to speak directly to Lady Chichester provided a much-needed psychological boost. He signs off “very glad to hear your voice and you have all my love, all my love, goodbye, goodbye”. Later, he wrote in his account of the voyage, ‘It was a joy to hear her, and to be able to talk directly to her. This cheered me up immensely’ (Gipsy Moth Circles the World, p.93).

UOSH_Footer with HLF logo

06 May 2016

The Audio and Audio-Visual Academic Book of the Future - A Symposium

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In 2015 the British Library Sound Archive began working in collaboration with Academic Book of the Future to ascertain the current landscape of research utilising audio and audio-visual content. Forty-two researchers responded to our audio-visual academic book survey (you can see that initial call out here.) Logo

From the respondents it’s been interesting to note that most researchers only utilise audio in a transcribed or written format. Thirty-eight of the researchers that completed our survey (90% of respondents) transcribed the audio that they were using. This is a colossal amount of work in some cases, and perhaps highlights some of the issues raised in Raphael Samuel’s seminal essay ‘Perils of the Transcript’* from 1972. In ‘Perils of the Transcript’, Samuel explored issues that arise when oral history interviews are transcribed and how meaning and emotion become subverted by the need to make the oral testimony readable - namely the use of punctuation. In what way can digital technologies help the researcher (from all disciplines of audio visual research) escape this peril which Samuels articulated 44 years ago? How does publishing need to evolve to best serve the audio visual researcher both now and in the future? Are we ready to give up the beloved CD, DVD or cassette?

Promo

As the technological landscape of the world changes, the ability to access and play analogue sound carriers becomes increasingly limited. It is important to also consider the rate of decay for websites and digital links which is astoundingly high and not up to short-term (let alone long-term) archival preservation. From the initial survey work that has been done for the Save Our Sounds project, the main preservation concern for our audio collections is not that the recordings themselves are at immediate risk of disappearing, but the obsolescence of the playback equipment and digital operating platforms.

A symposium has been arranged on 23rd May 2016 to discuss the findings of the survey and hear presentations by publishing houses, app developers, and researchers. The symposium will be a forum to discuss the potential of the audio and audio-visual academic book of the future and ways of working together to fully explore that potential. 

Book to attend the Symposium here.

Find out more about Save our Sounds here, follow @SoundHeritage for live updates from our digitisation studio, @SoundArchive for tweets from the sound team, and use #SaveOurSounds to join the conversation on Twitter.

The symposium is generously supported by the British Library Labs project – http://labs.bl.uk

* Samuel, Raphael. Perils of the Transcript. Oral History. Vol. 1, No. 2 (1972), pp. 19-22

Steven Dryden - Sound & Vision Reference Specialist

04 March 2016

What does 'place poetry' look and sound like in the 21st century?

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Last Friday the British Library hosted 'Beyond Bounds: Britain Re-Presented in Poetry', a performance of poetry readings by Anthony Joseph, Kayo Chingonyi, Jay Bernard and Vahni Capildeo.

The reading was followed by a discussion about the idea of place poetry in the 21st century.

None of the poets settled for a particular meaning of place. Perhaps because they are all well-travelled and have lived in a myriad of locations.  At one point in the discussion Anthony Joseph said 'place is in the mind’ and ‘home is where you want to be’. Vahni Capildeo told us that her heart belongs to Glasgow. Kayo Chingonyi talked about how London is a place that sucks you into itself. And Jay Bernard made it clear in her reading that place can be a whole made up thing which doesn’t even have to exist.

Anthony Joseph and Vahni CapildeoAnthony Joseph reading from the anthology Out of Bounds / Vahni Capildeo reading from Measures of Expatriation

Kayo Chingonyi and Jay BernardKayo Chingonyi reading from The Color of James Brown's Scream / Jay Bernard reading from The Red and Yellow Nothing.

The event marked the beginning of a 10-month series of complementary poetry events/activities which will take place all over the British Isles. It launched the Out of Bounds Poetry Project, which is administered by the Universities of Stirling and Newcastle and funded by the AHRC. The project is a follow-up from the poetry anthology Out of Bounds. British Black and Asian Poets (2012), edited by Jackie Kay, James Procter and Gemma Robinson, who is also one of the project leaders.

The Out of Bounds Poetry Project will generate online digital resources which will allow both poets and public to have a say on place poetry. More about this in a future post. All the audio material generated by the project will be archived by the British Library.

Overall the event was injected with humour and provocation. You can listen to the audio recording of the event in the Library’s reading rooms (BL reference C1717/1).

Listen to Anthony Joseph_The Ark [excerpt]

The British Library's sound collection is growing by 4000 recordings every month.  Access to collection items is either by appointment through the Listening and Viewing Service, or through the Sound & Moving Image Catalogue (at the Library premises only). Selected recordings are available to listen to online.

Find more about the British Library's Drama and Literature Recordings and keep up with our activities on @BL_DramaSound.

Read about the British Library's Sound Archive preservation programme to digitise the nation's rare and unique sound recordings at Save Our Sounds programme and #SaveOurSounds.

23 October 2015

Africa Writes vox pops: What’s new about West African Literature?

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Africa Writes blog

Africa Writes vox pops is a new collection of 32 video interviews made at the Africa Writes festival 4-5 June, 2015. See BL reference C1705.

Africa Writes is an annual literature and book festival organized by the Royal African Society in partnership with the British Library. 

The interviews were filmed by the British Library in collaboration with Afrikult to produce a short film now on show at the British Library's new exhibition West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song co-curated by Marion Wallace and Janet Topp Fargion.

The collection comprises the raw unedited footage of 32 five-to-ten minute interviews, including set-ups, tests for focus, cutaway shots etc. Highlights can be viewed in the exhibition. The videos capture Africa Writes’ international audience of readers discussing contemporary trends in West African literature.

Participants were asked what is new and exciting about West African literature; how West African literature has changed since Chinua Achebe’s generation of writers; how West African literature connects with people's experiences in Africa and the diaspora today; what role do women play in West African literature; and how could West African literature be described in just three words. The results of the final question are expressed in the word cloud shown below.

Wordle 3__

The interviewees agreed unanimously that West African literature has contributed to their lives by helping them to shape their identities and to make sense of their experiences of migration, diaspora and transculturation. Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie topped the list of recommended authors.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is seen as great empowerer of women and an inspiration for the young. Women are considered more prominent in West African literature than ever, not just as characters, but as writers too.

The value of this collection goes beyond the subject of West African literature, delving into what literature means, how it resonates with its readers and how it has helped Africans to reclaim their own history and to engage with the diaspora.

Several interviewees touched on how social media helps to connect writers, publishers and audiences, making African literature more visible and internationally accessible.

The digital space has also helped to circumvent restrictions on publishing in languages besides the hegemonic English and French, providing opportunities to authors who write in West African languages. Furthermore it has expanded the possibilities for online publishing in general and for multilingual and multimedia e-publications such as the Valentine's Day Anthology 2015  of short stories, published by Ankara Press, which includes audio readings by the authors and can be downloaded for free.

When asked what would they like to see more of in the future interviewees' thematic concerns were heterogeneous, including topics and genres such as queer, different gender dynamics and disability stories, thrillers, crime fiction, romance, pop culture, traditional stories, science fiction and non-fiction.

If you haven't read much West African literature and don't know where to start this vox pops collection will set you up. And if you were already into West African literature it will probably help you to expand your reading list until the next Africa Writes festival in 2016. 

A big thanks to the 33 interviewees and Afrikult members: Zaahida Nalumoso, Henry Brefo and Marcelle Akita. And please come to the exhibition which is on until 16 February 2015.

11 August 2015

Conference Report: Performing the Archive, Galway, 2015

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Galway blog3re

I have just returned from the ‘Performing the Archive’ conference at the National University of Ireland in Galway, 22-24 July.  

This was an international conference on performance archives attended by delegates from European countries and the United States: most of them archivists, academics, artists and/or PhD students working with archives.

The three-day programme contained six plenary panels and six concurrent sessions with papers on 25 different topics, which, multiplied by three speakers per session, made a total of 75 papers presented. See programme.

The venue was the Arts Millennium Building, with the evening receptions held at the James Hardiman Library, both modern spaces conveniently close to our student accommodation campus in Corrib Village.

I only have space to mention just a few highlights:

Lost Theatres and their Digital Remains

Various discussions were dedicated to two of the most prominent theatres in the history of Dublin: the Abbey Theatre, considered to be Ireland’s national theatre; and the (fourth) Theatre Royal, which had a capacity of 4000 seats and was reputedly the biggest theatre in Europe.

The Abbey Theatre has an ongoing archive online digitisation project consisting  so far of over a million items of audio, video, photographs, scripts, set designs, posters, documents, and oral history interviews with actors, writers, directors and staff from the Abbey.

In addition, both theatres are being digitally reconstructed with the use of 3D digital technologies by Hugh Denard and his team of Trinity College, Dublin.  Read more.

Complementing these two online resources is the ‘Playography Ireland’ site, which combines two comprehensive databases of new Irish plays produced professionally since 1904.

Holding a Mirror Up to Nature and Society

Next year Ireland celebrates the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising which has been described as ‘the foundational myth of the modern Irish state’ in ‘the war of independence against Britain (1919 - 1921) and the creation of the Irish Free State'. See, for example, Professor David Reynolds's recent article in New Statesman.

Much questioning has gone into the sources for building memory and historiography and in anticipation of the coming commemorations, part of the conference focused on voices absent from the archives, with an emphasis on women and queer histories.

Particularly relevant were two papers: one by Ciara Conway and the other by Miriam Haughton, both of National University of Ireland, Galway.

Professor Tracy Davis of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois  presented a paper on the manuscript diaries of Frederick Chesson, in her words ‘a diary of nobody’, to bring attention to ‘the matrix’ of Victorian diaries and their importance for the writing of history. 

Considering theatre as a mirror and microcosm of society, Professor Patrick Lonergan of National University of Ireland, Galway, presented a paper on gender and how theatres perform in society based on his research at the Abbey Theatre archives, including an interesting example of the imbalance in the number of toilets provided for men and women!

Creativity and Archives

There was also a focus on creative ways of seeing archived materials and conceiving dynamic alternatives of engagement.

For example Blake Morris spoke of The Walk Exchange a collaborative project which develops public educational and creative walks, in which the participants are invited to think about the urban as a text.

Theatre practitioners using archives who spoke included playwright and researcher Jenny Roggers; playwright and journalist Colin Murphy, who spoke about his 2010 play Guarantee; theatre director Louise Lowe of ANU Productions, who talked about PALS: The Irish at Gallipoli; Paula McFetridge, Artistic Director of Kabosh Productions, who has worked on several projects in Belfast; and Joan Sheehy of Limerick City of Culture, who talked about The Colleen Bawn Trials.

Tanya Dean of National University of Ireland, Galway, presented a paper on positive ways of seeing theatre which is not live but yet exclusive as ‘something other than performance', such as the NT Live initiative of London’s National Theatre.

Overall this was a very stimulating three days, efficiently organized by Charlotte McIvor and her colleagues. Conferences like this always give me lots of food for thought for many months to come. A big thank you to everybody who made this conference possible.